A look at the evolution of influencers

Custyomers work on their laptops at Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Every year, companies give billions of dollars to “influencers” who promote the companies’ products, typically on their social media accounts.

This is known as influencer marketing and makes up the majority of advertising in today’s day and age.

“Influencer marketing goes way back when looking at the history of it,” said Matthew Frields, director of marketing and enrollment at The Master’s University.

As communication increased, print advertisements turned into radio, then into television. Each change brought advertisers a new challenge.

At this point, influencers were primarily celebrities or athletes who companies could pay to be in commercials, and in the modern era, one of the classic examples is the “Bo Knows” advertising campaign for Nike cross-training shoes that ran in the late 80s, starring Bo Jackson, a famous two-sport athlete.

“People loved that,” Frields added. “Word of mouth has more pull than anything else.”

Commercials would come on TV or the radio and viewers had less choice about who they could listen to or watch. That is until recorded TV and podcasts came into the picture, causing commercials to begin to lose their pull.

Then, social media began to flourish and advertisers were again forced to change where and how they promoted their products, Frields said.

Those who’ve grown up with social media now seem tougher to reach from an advertising standpoint, according to Dave Brill, media entertainment arts professor at College of the Canyons.

Though billboards and commercials haven’t gone anywhere, social media has added the development of influencer marketing, and now extending that beyond just celebrities who endorse products; instead, advertisers are choosing everyday people who have an audience that fits their brand.

Educator Nina Garwood, left, and daughter Julia work on their laptops at Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Micro-influencers have a lot of pull and say with their followers,” Frields said, adding that these followers know and trust this person.

Advertisers want to be in the right place at the right time with the right product, and social media is another avenue where that’s possible, Frields added.

“The influencer has to have influence within the industry,” Frields said, adding these changes have also spurred more niche markets. “If they fit within a niche of your market, they can be very powerful, and they are more trusted by their followers.”

While these efforts have gained traction in these niche markets, there’s also something to be said for established avenues of advertisers, the familiarity of certain outlets and the comfort of customer service or a brick-and-mortar presence from traditional media outlets that audiences know and trust.

“People are smart, they know when someone uses the product and when someone is just taking money to promote the product,” Frields said, adding that on social media it’s harder to tell.

Companies now can use analytics to understand where their biggest markets are and who their demographic is, allowing them to fine-tune their marketing tactics, according to Frields.

Algorithms have also made it so engagement with a post helps to dictate how big the audience is, making engagement more valuable.

“The more engagement the more it goes out to followers,” Frields said. “When you see a post that people have engaged with, you’re going to be more intrigued.”

Brandon Ess, left, of Saugus works on his laptop at Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Frields said this goes back to the fact that the most effective marketing route word of mouth, and the key is getting others to also share these posts.

Right now, we live in an era where most have a “fear of missing out,” also known as FOMO, according to Frields.

“When you see your friends engaging with content, you wonder why they’re interested,” said Dr. Shelby Pierce, a clinical psychologist.

“You want to know about what products are popular or what your friends are buying — it’s that simple,” Pierce added. “You don’t want to be missing out on the latest trends, so any time you see your audience engaging, you’re very likely to be interested.”

No matter what field, businesses of all kinds have to relate to the public on social media, including the news media, according to Brill.

“They’re encouraged to share more about themselves to build a relationship with their audiences,” he added.

The key to this relationship, especially when promoting products, is authenticity.

When marketing on social media began to develop, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in, creating rules, similar to those on other advertising platforms, in which advertisers cannot deceive consumers, such as requiring sponsored content to be identified in the post.

“That’s where that authenticity,” Frields added, “comes in.”

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